December 15th, 2019

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The Rocky Road to Doublin' Down on Your Mistakes

Well, I promised a sequel to yesterday's post, so here it is. This one is a bit more future orientated.

Corbyn and Labour
One thing I've heard a lot is that Corbyn personally was a major (negative) factor on the doorstep. Not the manifesto policies he espoused, which (outside Brexit) were generally popular, but Corbyn the man. I made my own criticisms of his conduct of the campaign, but I remain an admirer and admit I find it hard to understand the visceral nature of some people's reaction to him; or why, if Corbyn's character flaws were a decisive negative factor, Johnson's much more obvious and fundamental character flaws would not be. Corbyn's faults are generally the negative form of his virtues: the point at which "sticking to one's principles" becomes "a stiff-necked inability to listen to others" is a matter of debate, and perhaps of standpoint. Johnson's continual lies, racism and hypocrisy, don't really have a positive aspect. There's also always been a fundamental incoherence to the criticisms of Corbyn: both an ineffectual geography teacher type, and a sinister, ruthless zealot. (It sounds trivial, but I suspect that Corbyn's having a beard will also have been a factor with some, especially older Britons: see the opening pages of The Twits for a rare articulation of this prejudice.)

It's hard to know how much part the constant attacks on Corbyn played, both from inside and outside the party. Certainly he has been more consistently vilified than any leader in my time (including Blair at the time of the Iraq war). I remember being shocked by a Conservative Party Political broadcast in 1983 that showed deliberately unflattering pictures of Michael Foot, Tony Benn and others, but it was a world away from this kind of thing. And while many people will feel themselves too sophisticated to be taken in by such crude propaganda, I've seen too many Derren Brown specials not to know that even apparently self-aware people can be influenced by subtler signals disseminated by social (and other) media over the course of years. If you think the Tory party hasn't been doing that, you need to get real; but they've been ably abetted in the (yes, I'll say it) cult-like anti-Corbynism of many on the Labour right.

Anyway, Corbyn is going, and the question now turns to his replacement. Of course the centrists would like one of their own, so that they can return us to the glory days of 2010 and 2015 (oh, wait), but the membership is unlikely to oblige, especially if the preferred candidate is someone like Jess Phillips, who has spent most of the last four years dissing their previous choice. One thing I will venture to predict is that the new leader will be a woman. Keir Starmer is the only man with a shouting chance, but he is strongly associated with the Brexit policy, and there are several women with an excellent claim. The party now has more female MPs than male, while two thirds of the Tory MPs are men and they are led by a misogynist dead-beat dad who can't even say how many children he has: a female leader could more easily underline and exploit that difference. (Also, Labour is still the only major party never to have had a non-interim female leader, and I think they will be keen to correct that.)

In Other Prediction News
My record in predictions is patchy. Three years ago, I correctly predicted that Theresa May would become Tory leader. Two years ago, buoyed by this, I made a prediction about the likely course of Brexit negotiations and got it badly wrong, although the underlying analysis was sound. (I knew that the Irish would be betrayed, but I picked the wrong group - it was the Unionists by the Tories, not the Republic by the EU). I hesitate to predict anything about the rest of this year, let alone parliament, but I will note in passing something I've not often seen acknowledged, which is that the EU has played a blinder throughout this whole process. Seriously, they've scarcely put a foot wrong. Admittedly they were negotiating with incompetents who were divided among themselves, but that's not always the easiest position to be in. I see no reason to think that will change. (And I say this as one with no special love of the EU.)

Of course the NHS will not be "sold off" in a visible way, but the processes already long in train will be accelerated, especially now Tory cupidity has the extra incentive of a Trump trade deal. The NHS will be scooped away from the inside, until it is just a shell. Queues will lengthen, services decline, choice (except for those with money) disappear. For the Tories, all this is a feature, not a bug. Also, Johnson lied (of course) when he said he had a plan for social care; he will follow Cameron in postponing action indefinitely.

Similarly, we will not see the next election cancelled, but Johnson will do everything he can to stack the odds in his favour: boundary changes are already in train, but he will also be tying the hands of the Supreme Court, using ID to suppress voting by the poor and the young, abolishing the fixed-term parliament act so that he can call an election whenever it suits him best, and of course cancelling Leveson II (a little-remarked feature of the Tory manifesto, but an obvious bribe to the press for their continuing partisan support).

All right, those were all predictions - but they are at the level of "the sun will rise tomorrow."

The BBC
Finally, I have been and will no doubt continue to be critical of the BBC, but I would caution those few friends I've seen suggesting a boycott and licence fee cancellations. The BBC is comparable to the NHS in terms of its importance as a cultural institution: you can't reduce it to its UK political reporting, which is a tiny (if important) aspect of its overall activity. You do realise that all your alternatives (Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) are private companies owned by American billionaires, right? Do you really think you'd be better off left to their tender mercies? (You would not.)